As independent contractors, real estate professionals must balance selling with the time-consuming tasks involved in running a business. After all, it’s easy to forget to treat your business like a business when curve balls come flying at you throughout the day, causing you to drop what you’re doing to address a problem that needs immediate solving.
If mistakes are the tuition for experience, the experts we spoke with have admittedly paid their dues. But by learning from their accumulated wisdom how important it is to be serious about moving from the role of agent to business owner, you might be better prepared to follow through on your business goals in the new year.
So now it’s your turn. Get ready to be inspired to achieve what may seem like the impossible: creating more time in the day to focus on selling, and putting systems in place for accounting, budgeting, marketing and scheduling that practically run automatically.
Learn to manage your own time wisely
There were days when Ryan Preuett, senior vice president of sales for Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, had five goals to accomplish but got so sidetracked troubleshooting, he never checked anything off his list. “Different obstacles come up all the time, such as realizing a property you thought was under contract has water damage,” Preuett said. “You have to find out, is it something we can fix? If so, what will it cost?” Interruptions like that raise the question: How do you prioritize?
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The answer was obvious to Preuett: create more time. Of course, we only have 24 hours in a given day to work with, but there are ways to use them more wisely. Preuett starts work anytime between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are not reaching out to him. “During those hours, I can get things done I want to get done,” he said. “And it leaves me available to handle situations as they come up during the day.”
Sheila Doyle takes advantage of the early morning hours too. Doyle, a broker with Baird & Warner in Evanston, starts work at 7 a.m. and approaches each day as if she has no listings and no pending sales. Intent on achieving her daily goals, she focuses on one task at a time without interruption. Doyle spends the first part of each morning on lead generation. When she’s done, she makes follow-up calls or returns calls to prospects she was unable to reach previously. Setting aside time each day to concentrate on creating new leads helps her stay focused on the future.
“Call around your listings to see if neighbors know of anyone who would like to be in that neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to contact these people,” Doyle advised other agents. However, she added that it’s important to also focus these calls on the needs of others. “Whenever you’re making these phone calls, come from a place of help — not commission — and ask them, ‘How can I help you?’”
Doyle also keeps two time slots open each day for listing appointments, which don’t always happen. But when they do, she’s available.
To keep operations running smoothly, Rob Schaid, managing broker-owner of RE/MAX Plaza, suggested putting as many systems in place as possible that can happen without you being part of them. For example, since sales and marketing are the most important part of the job, Schaid said agents should design the marketing plan but then outsource activities within the plan. For example, brokers can choose to have someone else mail monthly newsletters and “just listed” postcards for you. Schaid suggested resources like Buffini & Company, which will set up agents with monthly marketing materials in a box, and Quantum Mail, which handles “just listed” postcards.
Think long term
Preuett sets an annual goal and makes it attainable by breaking it down into quarterly, weekly and daily parts. He compares it to aspiring to lose 20 pounds in a year. Broken down, it’s five pounds a quarter. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do today, tomorrow and the next day, to reach my goal?’ If it’s [to] exercise more but the weather is too cold outside for a run that day, make up for it another day,” he said. “If you break it down, any goal is manageable; if you have the steps to get there and track it along the way.”
To avoid budgetary hiccups, Doyle plans ahead for taxes and retirement. Baird & Warner has a check system that earmarks a certain percentage of money for taxes and for a self-employed pension. “It’s another way to treat your business like a business,” Doyle said. “If you have to do it on your own, set aside a specific amount from each check for taxes and savings.”
Schaid suggested agents consult with an accountant to explore all their options. To avoid confusion, he suggests keeping business and personal finances separate. Open a company checking account and/or credit card, he said. That way, it’s easy to determine how much money you are spending on the business, because you receive a monthly statement from the bank.
Seeking help when you need it
It can be hard to delegate. Preuett did it by breaking down the steps of a transaction and dividing them into two categories: tasks he absolutely has to do, such as attending a second showing with a serious buyer, versus jobs his two assistants can take over, like inputting a listing into the MLS or staying behind at a photo shoot to make sure it gets executed properly. To accomplish his daily goals and free himself up for clients who are buying and selling homes, he sticks to his tasks and his support staff handles theirs.
“If you are doing paperwork all day, it’s not going to be a good marketing strategy for the future,” Preuett said. “It’s why you see newer agents with income that comes and goes in waves, whereas seasoned agents have deal flow and income that is more stabilized, because they have systems in place.”
But hiring assistants isn’t the only way to gain more time. Even though she’s a solo broker, Doyle said she likes to think of the work she does to gain more seller clients as a business owner might.
“The more listings I have, the more other agents are working for me,” Doyle said. “My goal is to be the employer, not the employee.”
Another way to reach out for help building your business is to make sure you budget time and resources for personal development. “Attend seminars, read books and participate in professional coaching,” Schaid said, noting the book “The E-Myth Revisited,” by Michael Gerber, was a game changer for him. “It’s about developing systems that allow you to work on your business, not just in it.”
Since 2004, Doyle has been involved in coaching with Mike Ferry. The service provides her with software that analyzes numbers, revealing how many contacts she needs to make to get listing appointments and how many appointments she needs to go on to land a listing, in addition to outlining listings sold. “It lets me, and my coach, know where I need help,” Doyle said. “And what I’m doing wrong.”
Develop marketing plans on a case-by-case basis
Before using any marketing tool, assess the risk of investment versus potential return, Preuett said. Then monitor it. “If it’s working, do more of it. If you are not sure, do less.” Agents who don’t have a system to track marketing effectiveness can pull sales from last year, Schaid said, and try to identify where the lead came from to determine which activities resulted in transactions.
While Preuett recognizes the need to step away from the day-to-day, he also understands how individual transactions — and the relationships that blossom from them — impact his overall business marketing plan. “If you do a good job for a client, you will get two to three referrals from them over the next one to two years,” he said. “There is nothing more effective than a third-party endorsement.” Knowing a lot of his clients have second homes in South Florida, Preuett has built a network of agents he trusts in that area to refer his clients to. On occasion, he has even flown to Florida with them to make introductions over dinner.
For Doyle, it’s about keeping in touch with her sphere of influence. “Don’t be a secret agent,” she said. “Tell your friends and past clients you are still in the business, because every person knows at least 10 agents. If you’re the one who is contacting them, you are the one they will think of.”
While it’s tempting to buy into solutions that promise to do this part of the business for you, Doyle said it’s pretty much impossible to turn that over to outsiders. “People will call me to advertise in magazines or call me because their website is better than anybody else’s. They say, ‘You never have to prospect.’ They don’t like when I say, ‘I do prospect, and I prospect every day, and I’m not going to pay you to do it,’” she said. “Don’t buy it. Do the work yourself.”
Maintaining professionalism, even when others don’t
In this business, your reputation is everything, and it’s not just clients you have to impress.
Of course, it’s bound to happen: an agent’s name appears on a listing your clients are interested in, and you cringe at the thought of having to work with them because they’re less than communicative or inconsiderate of others. Whatever the case may be, Preuett recommends agents keep quiet and rise above it.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t expect professionalism from those you work across the table from; it’s just about taking the right approach. Doyle recalled, early in her career, getting screamed at by a top agent. “I told her, ‘I’m not going to talk to you right now. Call me back when you are feeling better.’” In doing so, she taught the agent how to treat her; the next time they spoke, she was respectful.
Managers can foster professionalism among agents simply by leading by example. “If you see something going on, talk to your agents and counsel them on what’s appropriate and not appropriate,” Schaid said. Everyone is familiar with the National Association of Realtors’ code of ethics, but sometimes it’s necessary to revisit it. Often the best way to do so is to remind yourself that everything you do must be in the best interests of your clients.
Realistically, juggling it all takes discipline. “This is a business,” Preuett said. “It’s easy to be busy, but you don’t want to confuse that for being productive.”